Second-Largest U.S. Denomination to Split Over Marriage, Sexuality

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted January 07, 2020

The second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the United Methodist Church (UMC) will soon lose a large percentage of members and congregations if a separation plan is formally approved.

According to news reports, 16 leaders of the 12.5-million-member denomination—formed in a 1968 merger of the Methodist and the Evangelical United Brethren churches—drafted a separation formula after liberal and conservative wings of the church could not agree on issues of sexual morality. “Affirming” UMC congregations wanted to embrace same-sex marriage and employ openly homosexual clergy, while conservative congregations argued that the Bible prohibited such moves.

For years, the United Methodist Church’s guidelines prohibited the employment of practicing homosexuals as ministers as well as the performance of marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. However, local areas of the denomination, known as conferences, began to disregard such strictures, leading to a special 2019 meeting of church delegates to address the matter. That session voted to retain the existing prohibitions. But the decision was heavily protested against by liberal members and only narrowly passed—owing its thin victory to the UMC’s overseas delegates, who represented 4.4 million Methodists chiefly in Africa.

While the 2019 decision technically settled the matter of homosexuality, in reality, it merely made plain the growing rift between two groups of Methodists. It left opponents disappointed and no less impassioned about their stance on homosexuality within the church, setting the stage for a potential divorce: “I think there is a broad agreement across the theological spectrum that, unfortunately, we have come to an impasse that cannot be bridged,” the Rev. Douglas Damron told the Chicago Tribune.

“I really do think that the church as we knew it died in February 2019,” said the Rev. Alka Lyall, referring to the date the vote was held.

A Peaceful Methodist “Divorce”?

As for this new agreement, titled “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation,” it seeks a peaceful outcome in which the two parties agree to disagree, “allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person.”

Segregating congregations will have access to a $25 million fund from the UMC to set up a new denomination; their clergy will retain their UMC pensions while congregations will keep their church buildings and land.

It seems simple and—yes—peaceful, especially in sharp contrast to other recent church schisms, most notably within the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the global Anglican Communion. In recent years, the Episcopal Church’s tensions over similarly related issues resulted in an emotional split, sparked by the 2003 ordination of an openly gay bishop. Departing Episcopalian congregations have been subjected to lengthy court battles and, often, legal losses. In Northern Virginia, the Falls Church, where George Washington once worshiped, lost a seven-year court fight over its property and had to build a new church.

But while talk of the Methodist fracture may seem amicable, at its core—and at the core of all these church splits—lies a very serious issue. Conservative pundit David French says it best: “The debate over LGBT issues is a consequence of the underlying dispute, not its primary cause. … [T]here is a strain of Protestant Christianity that views the Bible as valuable but not infallible or inerrant. Evangelical Christians, by contrast, strongly dissent from that view.” The real matter at hand is actually how Christians view the Bible, not how they view one another. More accurately, how they view the Bible determines how they view and how they treat one another.

For every choice we make concerning how we live, the question then becomes: Am I living in accordance with God’s desires or my own? The Bible is the Word of God; it reveals His desires for us. “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine” (John 7:17). The Bible is, like God, truth (John 17:17). And unlike these church protocols and agreements and guidelines, it does not change (Isaiah 40:8).

Not Just for Methodists

The expected divorce within the United Methodist Church is not likely to be the last such split within Christian circles. Moreover, French states that these denominational schisms influence many more aspects of society than just the Christian faith: “The religious transformation of the United States, by contrast, will have enduring national and worldwide consequences,” he predicts. “[I]t’s quite plain that religious differences are now one of the central factors driving American political polarization.” 

What will all these separations ultimately reap? Your Bible predicts that there eventually will be a one-world religion established. It may seem a far cry from present reality, but consider this fact: Divorces are messy. They’re sad. We don’t like them. We don’t want them to happen. We desire unity. But the question is: At what cost? Yes, God desires His people to be unified but under Him and Him alone. The Bible predicts that this one-world religion will have a form of godliness but in actuality will deny what the Bible teaches. 

How might this happen? And who would do it? Our free online book, “Coming: One World Church,” offers a behind-the-scenes look at these quickly approaching events and how it will affect your life and future.

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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